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Chasing Fluency

Desire of people who stutter: Becoming fluent

Reason for continuing to stutter: Trying to become fluent

So many people who stutter go to therapy to fulfill their desire to become a fluent speaker, only to be disappointed when it doesn’t happen. They try and they try, and the more they try, the more they become frustrated. The consequence is either giving up on their hope of ever speaking without stuttering or continuing to search in vain for the magic cure that will get rid of their stuttering.

I don’t believe there are any magic cures, but I do know that people who stutter can speak fluently. I also know that people who stutter will never speak with normal fluency by trying to speak fluently. As a matter of fact, trying to be fluent is very counterproductive, because it usually makes the person more aware of words (a good way to make stuttering happen), and putting in more effort to try to get them out (adding control to what must be an automatic process).

It’s hard for people who stutter to grasp that there is a way that they can create fluent speech without chasing after fluency. Perhaps that is why the hardest challenge of Dynamic Stuttering Therapy is to keep clients focused on the internal processes of creating speech when all the really want is the outcome-fluent speech. In Dynamic Stuttering Therapy, fluency is never the criteria of success. Nevertheless, when the person creates speech in the normal way, the effortless outcome is fluent speech.

As I write this, I am watching the Winter Olympics. I see sportsman after sportswoman focused on their process for their sport as they go for the gold. I think this is a good example of how to achieve success in therapy.

Desire of people who stutter: Becoming fluent

Reason speech is fluent: Focus is on the inner processes of creating speech

Fluency Without Speech Tools

As I have stated in previous posts, it seems very clear that people who stutter generate speech, at least some of the time, with too much control over language planning and motor programming. This is the problem; we need to consider the solution.

We know that the goal of modern stuttering therapy is usually to learn to use speech tools. People who stutter are guided to think about what they want to say and how to say it. They are asked to:

  • Change the rhythm of speech or speak slowly.
  • Reduce struggle behavior with pullouts and cancellations, preparatory sets.
  • Remember to stutter on purpose
  • Control how the mouth and breath forms various classes of speech sounds
  • Control breathing and pause after short phrases

Although these “tools” may reduce the strength or frequency of stuttering blocks, they are really asking the speaker to add more control over speech. People are meant to be produced speech automatically, but speech tools support controlled speech. It is no wonder, therefore, that the use of these tools causes frustration and takes away from the joy and freedom of speaking naturally. Speech tools also interfere with the natural quality of speech and make it harder to express mood and the speaker’s real personality through normal patterns of intonation.

People often give up on speech tools and resign themselves to believing that their only other option is to continue to stutter. As much as they want to find ways to be more fluent, they are locked into their belief that their only choice is speech tools or stuttering. They can’t accept what there is now another option that guides people who stutter to speak fluently by learning to give up control.

Dynamic Stuttering Therapy is what both clinicians and clients have hoped for. It shows people who stutter how to speak without effort, thought or control over words or speech muscles. The speech produced is natural and expresses the speaker’s feelings. People who stutter can learn to speak fluently without having to use speech tools.

For those who have hoped for something better than speech tools, Dynamic Stuttering Therapy is the answer.

The Issue of Control

In my next few blog posts, I want to talk about the issue of control. People who stutter sometimes feel a loss of control when they are speaking. Their tongue or lips may go to places where they are not meant to be; their larynx may tighten uncontrollably; they feel like they cannot breathe and experience involuntary blocks. This certainly seems like a lack of control, because all these symptoms of stuttering occur without the speaker’s control. However, this does not mean that the speaker does not have control. I will argue that these unwanted symptoms occur because the speaker is exerting too much control in the central processing of speech.

Those of you, who have followed my writings, have heard me say that, according to psycholinguistic experts, speaking must be an automatic process. Automaticity is the requirement for fluent speech. The development of language happens automatically without thinking about the words. Controlling the choice of words, preplanning and scanning ahead is not part of normal speech production.

If you are a person who stutters, when do you stutter most? Is it when you forget that you are speaking or when you try to control your speech so that you will not stutter? We know that many people stutter less when they are alone, caring less about stuttering and taking less control over speaking.

Thinking about words is one form of control. Another is trying to control how you say the words. This involves using a controlled motor program. Sometimes the control of muscle movements is conscious, but at other times the control is subconscious. Many motor programs can be carried out on either a controlled mode or in an automatic mode. Automatic programming is always more efficient, more stable and faster than controlled programming.

Let’s take a minute to experience the difference between controlled and automatic programming. For an example, we can use the movement of the eyelids. Purposefully open and close your eyelids. When you do this you are using a controlled movement program. Do the movements feel heavier, more labored and slower than those automatic movements of your lids that occur throughout the day?

The same difference can occur regarding the speech muscles. We know that in order to speak theses muscles must also move with light, extremely rapid and miniscule movements. This requires the automatic mode. When control is used, muscle movement becomes more labored and, often, muscle groups not normally used to speak are activated. The fluid movement of speaking is compromised and the stuttering symptoms so often associated with lack of control happen because the program used to process speech is one that involves too much control.

Past Client 11 Years Later